ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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IDF drills at Jerusalem hospital for potential war, heavy rocket attacks on capital

Home Front Command simulates missile hitting Hadassah Ein Kerem medical center, mass casualties from strikes, in scenario representing multi-front battle with Lebanon, Gaza Strip

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

IDF Home Front Command soldiers escort mock victims into the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, during a drill, December 15, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
IDF Home Front Command soldiers escort mock victims into the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, during a drill, December 15, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

A large-scale military and medical drill took place at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem on Thursday, simulating a massive rocket attack on the capital, including one projectile slamming into the medical center amid a multi-front war.

Hundreds of soldiers and officers from the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command participated in the exercise, alongside hospital staff.

The scenario for the drill described by officials was as follows: A war has broken out between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, which has been launching thousands of rockets at Israel. Meanwhile, terror groups in the Gaza Strip are joining in the fighting, and have begun to launch hundreds of rockets at Israel, including Jerusalem.

“Past experiences have taught us that if we once thought rockets wouldn’t hit Jerusalem, well, they hit Jerusalem,” Dr. Inon Buda, the hospital manager, told The Times of Israel during the drill.

Buda was referring to the opening attack of an 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip in May 2021. Hamas launched a barrage of rockets at the capital, which did not cause any injuries as they were either intercepted or landed in open fields.

Col. Shlomi Ben Yair, the commander of the Home Front Command’s Jerusalem and Central District, told The Times of Israel that the military had identified hospitals as the “most sensitive” civilian site to potentially be hit in war.

Col. Shlomi Ben Yair, the commander of the Home Front Command’s Jerusalem and Central District speaks to The Times of Israel during a drill at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, December 15, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

“There is no shortage of sites we fear may be hit, but the most complicated places that may be hit are hospitals,” Ben Yair said.

“We understand that within a day or two after a war breaks out, the hospitals will be full… and if a rocket strikes a hospital or a nearby building collapses from an attack, the hospital will need our assistance,” he said.

Lt. Col. Diana Herzog, a Home Front Command officer in charge of preparing hospitals for emergencies, told The Times of Israel that meetings and other arrangements for the war simulation drill began about six months ago.

She said the lengthy preparations brought the hospital to understand what could actually happen during a war. “A war is a new scenario because in the past, Jerusalem was mostly free [of rockets]. It was very hard… unlike other hospitals that are well accustomed to war, we had to start from scratch here,” Herzog said.

A soldier with makeup pretends to be a victim of a rocket attack during a drill at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, December 15, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

“A war exercise is new for us, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t prepared,” Buda said, referencing past cases where the hospital had received dozens of injuries from a mass casualty incident, or had to close off areas of the hospital amid the coronavirus pandemic.

After the initial simulated rocket fire, the hospital entered a mock high alert, beginning to move patients to more protected areas, calling up additional medical staff, and instructing everyone at the hospital to be ready for an imminent attack.

In the following hours, a pretend rocket attack took out power to the hospital, leading it to run off its backup generators, and staff disconnected any unnecessary equipment that would drain the hospital’s power reserves.

IDF Home Front Command soldiers escort mock victims in the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, during a drill, December 15, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Hospital officials sat at a round table at the medical center’s headquarters, managing the ongoing events and the influx of simulated patients with varying degrees of injury due to the rocket attacks.

But then a major incident occurred. A mock rocket hit the hospital, causing additional “injuries” and areas in the building were declared unusable.

Hospital staff and soldiers of the Home Front Command’s reservist medical unit sprang into action and began to move mock patients and equipment from the damaged area to a safer part of the hospital.

The simulated situation at the hospital became dire in the second part of the exercise. A barrage of rockets hit a residential area in Jerusalem, and at least 70 people were being brought to the hospital, officials announced as part of the drill.

Hospital staff treat a mock victim in the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, during a drill, December 15, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

The mock victims, soldiers with bloody makeup, as well as some dolls, were rushed into the emergency room as ambulance after ambulance showed up at the entrance to the hospital.

In the emergency room, hospital and military medics worked to stabilize the dozens of mock victims, who continued to flow in.

The drill, which lasted several hours and was observed by the commander of the Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Rafi Milo, was deemed a success, according to hospital and military officials.

IDF Home Front Command soldiers escort mock victims in the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, during a drill, December 15, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Herzog said her unit was continuing efforts with every hospital around the country to help them prepare for a potential war, “with the assumption that the third Lebanon war will be relevant for all hospitals.”

Iran-backed Hezbollah has long represented the most significant military threat on Israel’s borders, with an estimated arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in the country.

According to recent military assessments, should war with Hezbollah break out, Israeli cities could be bombarded with 1,500 to 3,000 rockets a day and the death toll could quickly reach the hundreds.

Terror groups in the Gaza Strip, as well as other Iranian militias based in Syria, could join in a potential battle alongside Hezbollah with missiles and drone attacks, according to other assessments.

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